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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 40

Episode Description

Who knows more about the Ryedale Grand Prix than last year's winner Abi Smith (EF Education - Tibco - SVB)? Having grown up just two kilometres from historic Ampleforth Abbey, the race HQ and its start and finish location, it’s fair to say Abi has local knowledge in abundance. Listen now to Abi’s conversation with co-host Timothy John as she prepares to return to her home race after recovering from a knee injury.

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Episode 40: Abi Smith interview

Episode contents

  • 00.02 – Introduction
  • 00.38 – Hello And Welcome
  • 01.49 – Part One: Expert Witness
  • 03.03 – Part Two: Ryedale vs. CiCLE
  • 04.41 – Part Three: A Race of Two Halves
  • 06.40 – Part Four: Short, Sharp, Punchy
  • 09.53 – Part Five: Return of the Nationals?
  • 11.20 – Part Six: Domestic Health
  • 13.26 – Outro 



Timothy John

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

“Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing. Stay tuned!”

Hello and welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this special edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, where today we’ll preview the Ryedale Grand Prix with none other then the defending women’s champion, Abi Smith. 

“Now who knows more about the hardest race in the National Road Series than Abi, a professional with the UCI Women’s WorldTour team, EF Education-Tibco-SVB?

“Abi grew up just two kilometres from Ampleforth Abbey, where the race starts and finishes, and she won last year with a well-timed attack that ended in a solo victory. 

“She has nearly a lifetime’s experience of training and racing on the unforgiving roads of North Yorkshire and knows each of the many twists, turns, climbs and descents of the Ryedale

Grand Prix’s two intersecting circuits. 

“And if we needed further evidence of Abi’s credentials, she’s also won the Women’s CiCLE Classic and the Curlew Cup, two further ‘monuments’ of the domestic calendar, as well as having ridden WorldTour races including Strade Bianche, the Women’s Tour and the Giro Donne. 

“Abi, thank-you very much for joining us.”

Part One: Expert Witness

Timothy John 

“Well. I think we’ve set out your credentials there: clearly an expert witness.”

Abi Smith

“Well, my family home being two kilometres from the start is a pretty handy thing to have in my back pocket.”

Timothy John

“This is literally your back yard.”

Abi Smith

“I was just thinking back to memories of when I was tiny, getting my first bike and things, and the small circuit, before I knew anything about the Ryedale Grand Prix, we used to call it, my brother and I, ‘the hilly loop’; just the small circuit. 

“We used to practice up that first really steep hill and, when I was very little, not being able to get up it at all.”

Timothy John

“How much of an inspiration did it provide as your racing career began? Would you go and watch?”

Abi Smith

“Yes. I forget which year it was, but the national championships were there. I was very small at the time. I must have been less than ten, and I remember going round the car park and getting autographs and meeting people like Phil Liggett and Ned Boulting in the commentary. 

“It seems pretty crazy that 10 years later, I’m in the race this time. It’s a really special one to me.”


Part Two: Ryedale vs. CiCLE

Timothy John 

 “Amazing. Well, we’ve clearly struck lucky here. We’ve got a bona fide expert.

Abi Smith

“Attritional, grippy, and, oh, probably just hard. The course is unforgiving. It’s just constantly up and down. It’s not like there’s just one big climb up and one down. It’s constant and it’s steep. 

“Yeah, you keep getting pushed out of the back every time it goes up hill, really. Yeah, hard is the answer.”

Timothy John 

“Well, just to place it into context, we mentioned in the intro that you’ve also won the women’s CCLE Classic: a very different race, but, like Ryedale, one known for its difficulty. 

“Could you draw a comparison between the two, or is that not comparing apples with apples?”

Abi Smith

“In a way, yes. Obviously, the UK roads were quite similar wherever you go: quite grippy, quite hard riding, lots of twists and turns, small lanes, so in that sense, yes. Different in the sense that there are some off-road sections in the CiCLE Classic and a flat finish on that last circuit. 

“But in a sense, I won them in similar ways, I would say. My attack was later in Ryedale than it was in CiCLE. My CiCLE attack was not intended to be a winning move, in all honesty, but, you never know! Yeah, it turns out it’s hard to chase on roads like that so it’s worth a go.”

Part Three: A Race of Two Halves

Timothy John 

“Well, you spoke earlier about growing up on the Ryedale circuit. You started on the ‘small’ circuit There’s also a ‘large’ circuit. It’s a race of two halves, you might say,. 

“So what are the key differences between the two circuits? I mean, is it too easy to say, the smaller circuit is easier because it’s smaller? Or is it just smaller?”

Abi Smith

“I would say the long circuit, from my experience, has been ridden a little easier, but I’ve only done it twice: I don’t what’s happened in previous years. I think it’s been ridden a bit easier because people are aware that there’s still quite a lot of racing to come, and that short circuit is hard because that big hill of Thorpe Lane comes round more often, which is the real stinger. 

“The climbs on the bigger loop: there’s one in particular, Milking Lane, which tends to split it up a little bit, but, again from my experience. It comes back together a little bit more on the

bigger lap, and there’s still a fairly big group going into the smaller lap, which is usually, again, only having done it twice, where the action really happened.”

Timothy John 

“Well, it seems to me Abi that there are three key climbs: there’s theEast Lane, whet they refer to as ‘the Second Climb’ and Northmoor Lane. Now, you’ve already mentioned a couple

more: Thorpe Lane and Milking Lane.”

Abi Smith

“These are just the names in my head. I’m not sure about them. I call it ‘the big climb’, which is the one that goes south from Ampleforth which is on both the big and the small circuit. That’s the longest one. I think it’s less than ten minutes, but that’s enough damage to have done, anyway. 

“The other ones would be on the longer circuit, I assume: a little bit short, but just as steep, if not steeper, so that brings something a little bit different as well.”


Part Four: Short, Sharp, Punchy 

Timothy John

“So what is the secret? What is the technique? Again, we mentioned in the intro that you’ve ridden a Grand Tour. I mean, you’ve ridden the Giro Donne, and you would have ridden big European climbs. 

“How difficult by comparison are these small, sharp, hard ramps that we have in the UK?”

Abi Smith

“It’s very different, actually, say from the Giro, where you’ve got a half-hour climb or an hour climb  at maybe a slightly smaller percentage. 

“These ones are just very much out of the saddle, just see how long you can hang on, very different terrain. So I think it’s generally why British riders are good at punchy stuff, because

it’s short, it’s five to ten minuets max, which this definitely is. It’s kind of how quickly can you recover between climbs? 

“Whereas something like the Giro is, how long can retain your threshold? How long can you stay with the group for however long it is until the top of the climb because there’s no relent coming soon, and then a very long descent, usually, after that. There’s a lot of that going on. It’s a very different way of riding.”

Timothy John

“Which is better suited to your talents?”

Abi Smith 

“I’m still figuring it out. I’m not entirely sure what kind of rider I am, because, when riding with the WorldTour team, I’m a helper and doing a job, whereas when you’re doing the national series, you’re riding for yourself. It’s a different way of riding. When you’ve got no team-mates as well, you have to think a bit more about how you use your energy best.

“So, yeah, it’s very different. I would say having grown up around this area, I’m very used to it, put it that way!”

Timothy John 

“I mean, that must be a huge advantage when you’re racing Ryedale. As you say: you’ve done it twice; you’ve won it once. Not a bad strike rate! 

“It’s got this very hard-won reputation for being the hardest race on the domestic calendar. What else are we talking about here? It is heavy roads, twisting lanes? Apart from the

climbs, what are the other challenges?”

Abi Smith

“Particularly if there’s a large bunch, which I believe both are quite big fields this year, which is really good, but the lanes are small, so it’s very hard to get to the front if you’re stuck at the back, potentially behind people who are dropping off the pace, and you’ve got to go round them; use extra energy. That’s certainly what happened in my first year is that I ended up trying to catch up all the time because you get stuck at the back. That’s one thing to think about.

“Also, just the constant up-and-down nature of it means that often you don’t see the front if you’re not there because they keep pressing on. I watched the men’s races both years as

well and that’s particularly what happens: if you’re out of position on the first lap then you probably won’t see the front of the race again.”

Timothy John

“So, positioning is absolutely key?”

Abi Smith

“Definitely, and particularly at a few points on the big lap as well, on the climbs when it’s about one-and-a-half car’s width, if that makes sense. It’s quite narrow. There’s not a lot of space. You need to be well positioned there.”

Part Five: Return of the Nationals?

Timothy John 

“Well, you mentioned a few moments ago that one of the years in which you went to watch, and, in fact, it might have even been the first, was the national championships, which I think was in 2012. 

“’What if the nationals came back to Ryedale? How would that suit you?”

Abi Smith

“I’d love it. That would be brilliant. It would be quite similar to Saltburn; a little less elevation than Saltburn, but no less hard, put it that way. It certainly suits us as British riders, in that sense. 

“It’s not the longest, compared to WorldTour races, but sometimes that makes it much harder because it is full gas from the beginning all the way to the end. There is no rest.”

Timothy John

“I mean, you’ve ridden Strade Bianche for goodness sake. How does Ryedale stack up against the Strade Bianche?”

Abi Smith

“Strade is something else! I kind of cut it into three sections The first is really, really hard: it’s almost all gravel. And then you get a bit of respite in the middle, and there’s a bit of flat, and then comes the hardest part at the end, which is absolutely draining. 

“It’s definitely a lot longer, and it’s a very different way of racing as well, particularly if you’re doing a job for a team. There are different goals, and when you’re riding agains the likes of Lotte [Kopecky] and Demi [Vollering] and whoever else is there, it’s another level.”



Part Six: Domestic Health

Timothy John 

 “I mean, with that said, how do you rate the health of the domestic scene at the moment?  I mean, the health of British road racing is a constant theme of this podcast. Brother UK, of course, has stood at the side of the domestic scene for a decade now. 

“On the one hand, there’s al lot of doom and gloom, notably around the decline of the National Road Series. On the other, particularly with these thriving National B races and a rejuvenated National Circuit Series, there’s a lot of optimism a lot of positivity, 

“And, of course, young British riders like you continue to break into the WorldTour, so how do you read that situation?”

Abi Smith 

“As you say, there are positive and negatives. Certainly, when I first started, the men’s side was an awful lot bigger than the women’s. I believe there were maybe four or five national series for the women and maybe ten for the men. I thought that was a bit unfair. I wanted to do more; I think most people did.  

“Unfortunately that’s come down a little bit on both sides, so, in that sense, the national series, I think, has taken a bit of a fall, which is a real shame as it’s so good for showcasing and giving a goal to those rider who are the best in the UK on the domestic scene, so I really hope that makes a bit of a comeback, particularly on the men’s side because that’s really taken a bit of a hit because of the financial situation; globally, probably. 

“But, as you say, on the other hand,  I think the riders are getting better and better, and, again, particularly, you see the formation of these strong teams; you see the rides coming

through, which is really great, and progressing to the WorldTour. 

“Again, when I stared, only two years ago, there were maybe only five female WorldTour riders, and now there are nearly twenty; I don’t know how many there are, maybe 15 or so. It’s such a huge growth. I think we need to continue developing the domestic scene for more riders to be able to make that jump. 

“I wish we could have a bit more, but, at the same time, the riders are doing very well with what we have.”




Timothy John

“You’ve been struck with a knee injury this year: how is the comeback progressing, so to speak? You rode the nationals. Will we see you at Ryedale?”

Abi Smith

“That’s the plan. It’s doing really well, but it’s till a bit weak. It’s still not quite used to doing full training so I have to be a bit careful with it, but, yes, the plan is to ride and enjoy it, to be honest. Obviously, it would be nice to do well, but that’s not the main aim for me. 

“I’ve got the Tour de l’Avenir coming up afterwards. That’s the main aim. That’s really exciting. I’m really looking forward to that. Ryedale is to get me back into racing and just have

some fun and see what Ic an do. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how I’m going to feel. Just having a good day out: that’s the aim, really. I’m looking forward to it, thought.”

Timothy John

“Well, the very best of luck with it, Abi. I’m sure people in North Yorkshire will be desperate to see you do well again and resume where you left off both at the Ryedale Grand Prix and in the WorldTour. 

“Thank-you very much indeed for joining us today.”

Phil Jones

“If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe.”